“What are you even studying for? It’s not like we have much homework,” Hayden had said, laying on his back on the couch, tossing a rubber ball into the air with one hand. It was late Saturday morning, and Cyrus hadn’t left the dorm room since breakfast.
“SATs,” Cyrus said, not looking up from his practice manual. “They’re in like two weeks, you know.”
“Eh, you don’t need to study for them. Come on, let’s do something,” Hayden encouraged. “There’s a little pond, or, lake thing out back, we could borrow some rods from the store house. They stock it with fish.”
Cyrus was momentarily torn, but his logical half won, as usual. “Sounds fun, but I really need to study. I’ve got to get my score up if I want to get into Princeton.”
Hayden sat up, surveying Cyrus. “Princeton? Huh.”
“Nothing, nothing,” Hayden insisted, then paused. “Just out of curiosity, what was your score the first time through?”
“Twenty one hundred,” Cyrus replied hesitantly.
Hayden’s eyes widened. “Twenty one hundred?” he repeated. He hopped off the couch and grabbed Cyrus’s arm, dragging him out of his desk.
“What are you doing?” Cyrus demanded.
“Twenty one hundred?” Hayden said again, not letting go.
Cyrus struggled, but Hayden’s grip was strong. “Yeah…?” he replied, confused.
“Yeah, you’re taking the day off, man.” Hayden shoved him towards the door. “You don’t need to study for the SATs anyway, it’s all in your inherent knowledge. And from what I can tell, you’ve got a hell of a lot of it.” Hayden missed Cyrus’s slight blush and plowed on, “So take the day off, get some fresh air, and just wing the SATs, yeah?”
Hayden shook his head. “No buts. Live a little, Cyrus.”
And that was how Cyrus ended up wasting an entire day. He hardly got any studying done, but somehow, he didn’t seem to care. He had more fun than he had in a long time. Later, Cyrus glanced at the clock, surprised to find that it was well after midnight. He and Hayden had gone to bed a few hours ago, but they’d fallen to talking and just hadn’t stopped.
“So, what’s your favorite color?” Hayden asked, firing off random questions to keep the conversation going. The moonlight filtered in through the window, and illuminated half of Hayden's face.
“Black,” Cyrus replied, fluffing his pillow under his chin. “You?”
“Don’t have one,” Hayden said. “I like them all. When’s your birthday?”
“November twenty third. When’s yours?”
There was a brief lull in the conversation, and Cyrus felt obligated to dispel it. “Do you have any siblings?”
Hayden nodded, smiling in the dark. “Yeah. A younger brother; his name is Will. How about you?”
“None,” Cyrus said. “I mean, I was an accident as it is,” he blurted without thinking.
“Oh,” Hayden muttered. “I’m sure that’s not true.”
“It is. But it’s okay; I don’t care. As soon as I’m old enough, I’m cutting off from my mother for good.” Hayden was silent. After a minute, Cyrus rolled over to look at him. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to make that awkward.”
“Nah, don’t worry about it, man.” Hayden continued. “Is she the one who wants you to go to Princeton?”
Cyrus nodded. “She’s wanted it my whole life. Every summer, I went to science camps, math camps, engineering camps… all for this. If I don’t get accepted…” he trailed off. “Well, let’s just say she’d cut me off before I could.”
“Wow,” Hayden breathed. “High stakes. I’m, uh, sorry about earlier, then.”
“Don’t be,” Cyrus said. “I had fun. Really.” He waited a beat before continuing, “Hayden… you know what you said the other day about me giving you a week?” Hayden nodded. “I don’t need it.”
Cyrus replied, “I don’t need a week. I’d love to have a friend like you, if you… if you want.” Why Hayden would want a friend like Cyrus, well, he was still unclear on that point. He waited, unsure of Hayden’s reaction.
Hayden’s face split into a smile. “Of course I would! I wasn’t going to push it, but I’m glad you came around. I convinced you, huh?”
“Yeah, you proved me wrong,” Cyrus admitted.
“I knew it was only a matter of time,” Hayden said. “Everyone needs friends.” There was a moment of silence, then a loud yawn. “God, it’s late. I guess I should sleep now.”
Cyrus blinked his dry eyes. “Me too. Goodnight.”
Eyes snapping back open at the nickname, Cyrus turned to look at Hayden, but he had already turned away. Cy. He kind of liked it.
“Dude, it’s a rock,” Hayden stated. “I don’t get what we’re supposed to be observing here.”
“It’s not just a rock,” protested Cyrus from the adjacent lab station. “It’s a rock submerged in water.”
Hayden rolled his eyes. “God, that changes everything.”
Lee, Cyrus’s chemistry lab partner, snickered. Cyrus shot him a look. “Don’t encourage him.”
The lab station was one long table with two sinks on either end. Hayden and Tim occupied one half while Lee and Cyrus took the other. Neither group was getting much work done, which wasn't surprising.
Picking up the graduated cylinder in his good hand, Hayden held it up to eye level to read the markings. Tim swatted him on the shoulder. “Put that down! You’re supposed to read it on a level surface.”
Hayden rubbed his arm giving Tim a resentful glance. “Fine, God.”
“You act like it’s your first time in a lab,” Cyrus commented with a wry smile.
“It is,” Tim grumbled. “And I got stuck with him.”
With a shrug, Hayden explained, “I always liked physics better. I’ve been avoiding chemistry for so long that they had to force it in under the wire.”
Cyrus raised a brow. “Well, these are just basic lab skills they’re trying to teach us. It’s really mostly common sense… so I can see where your problem comes in.”
Glaring, Hayden crumpled up a paper towel and threw it at Cyrus’s head. He ducked just in time, but stiffened at the sound of the overweight teacher’s nasally voice. “Mr. Brenton! No horseplay in the lab.”
“Yes, ma’m!” Hayden said, a cheerful grin plastered on his face. “Er, no, ma’m! Er…”
Mrs. Atkins scowled at him. “Get to work,” she ordered. “Unless you’ve already found the volume of that rock? In which case, you should be moving on to the bunsen burners.”
“Have we found the volume of the rock?” Hayden hissed to Tim who nodded. “Awesome,” Hayden said louder. His eyes glinted with mischief as he added, “So who wants to lend me a pack of matches?”
Lee rolled his eyes. “It won’t do you much good. If you try to light one with that sling on, you’ll end up catching yourself on fire.”
“And the problem there is…?” Tim chimed in, jamming the rubber tube onto the gas valve and opening the vent on the bunsen burner.
“Wow, you guys. I can hear you, you know that?” Hayden grumbled. “My shoulder might be damaged, but my hearing’s not.”
They just laughed, much to Hayden’s dismay, and the rest of the period passed with ease. The bell rang, and Hayden was the first one out the door, having hastily shoved their equipment back in the cabinet without a second thought. “I’ll put it away properly next time,” he promised Tim, but everyone knew that was a lie. “Come on, Cyrus. Don’t want to be late for drawing, not that it matters. Did you do your sketch?”
“Of course,” Cyrus replied. Even though their first assignment of the year was something basic - drawing a book - the excitement that drawing was actually considered homework had driven Cyrus to finish it the night it was assigned. “Did you?” he asked.
“Sure,” Hayden replied. “Though I didn’t get around to it until History this morning.” He grinned.
“Well, I’m sure it’s a masterpiece,” Cyrus said, the sarcasm evident in his voice.
Hayden shrugged. “You bet it is.”
They walked in an easy silence until they got to the art room, a wide, open space with long tables marred with paint smears and clay residue. Easels were stacked in the corner, and paintings, sketches and other multimedia pieces were hanging from the walls. The teacher was almost always late, so there was no rush as Cyrus slid onto his normal stool, and Hayden took the seat next to him.
Up until that day, their drawing class had consisted of learning the materials and techniques required to draw, but not actually doing any drawing. Cyrus was a little nervous as to how his work would be received; he generally tried to fly below the radar on most things. It was just easier that way, but drawing was different.
“Can I see yours?” Hayden asked, pulling out his own sketchbook.
“If I can see yours,” Cyrus replied evenly.
“Let me see yours first, that way I can decide whether or not to burn mine.”
Cyrus smirked. “I thought yours was a masterpiece?”
“Shut up,” Hayden muttered as his good arm shot forward and snagged Cyrus’s sketchbook, drawing it back out of his reach. Cyrus’s heart leapt to his throat.
“Wait, don’t-“ he began in a panic, but Hayden had already flipped it open to the first page.
It was one of his drawings of Marissa. If Cyrus wasn’t so busy panicking, turning red with embarrassment, and cursing inwardly, he might have seen the subtle change in Hayden’s face. As it was, he was surprised when Hayden breathed, “Wow, man. You’ve got some serious talent.”
Cyrus blinked. The last time someone had gotten ahold of his sketchbook, they’d teased him, saying drawing was gay. That sketchbook had ended up in the toilet, he remembered. “Uh, thanks?”
Hayden looked a bit ashamed as he slid the book back over to Cyrus. “Sorry. I didn’t realize…I shouldn’t have opened that.”
“I shouldn’t have used this sketchbook for class anyway,” Cyrus said. “It’s okay.” And, oddly enough, it was. No one had ever complimented his work before, in large part because he had been too afraid to show anyone. And even if he wasn’t quite ready to show Hayden all of his drawings, Cyrus actually didn’t mind that he had gotten a glimpse. The heat in his cheeks, however, seemed to say otherwise.
“So, uh… is that your girlfriend?” Hayden asked to fill the silence as the class chattered around them.
Caught off guard, Cyrus stumbled over his words. “N-no. Not anymore,” he rushed to add.
“Oh,” Hayden said, electing not to push it, much to Cyrus's relief. Moments later, the teacher walked in, and class began. Cyrus avoided eye contact with Hayden for the rest of class, though he wasn’t quite sure why. It was true, Marissa wasn’t his girlfriend anymore. Maybe it was just the lingering embarrassment with which she had left him after the way they’d left things. Though Hayden of course knew none of that, the very thought of Marissa dredged up bad memories for Cyrus. Even so, he couldn’t seem to stop drawing her.
By the end of class, Hayden must have realized that something was wrong. As they walked out of the building, he apologized, “I’m really sorry, Cy. You obviously didn’t want me to see that, and-“
“No, it’s okay,” Cyrus insisted. He managed a small smile. “Really. I was just thinking about…her. The memories aren’t all good. You know how it is.”
Hayden nodded. There was a long moment of silence before he said, “I wasn’t lying, though. You’re freaking amazing at drawing. You ever think about doing something with it?”
Cyrus shook his head. “No. It’s not much of a career.” Whether that was Cyrus or his mother talking through him, he wasn't sure.
“Yeah, but if you like doing it, don’t stop,” Hayden said. “And I can only speak for myself, but I would seriously pay money for something you drew.”
Feeling the blush creeping up into his cheeks, Cyrus looked down at his feet. “Thanks, Hayden.”
Hayden grinned. “Anytime, man.”